Rajmachi and Kondana Caves Rappelling

As I listen to “Hard as a Rock” by ACDC, my mind swirls back to our “hardcore adventure” trip, waterfall rappelling the Kondana caves!!

Vj again, our PRO !!! had subscribed to a meetup group, which now has been christened as MoRonz AdvEntUrez. He’d asked me to subscribe as well. And these like minded individuals had finally got another meet organized at “Cafe Sea Side”, Bandra. I and Vj had managed to get there late eve, almost 8.30pm 😛 after office, where we were surprised to see a big group already chit-chatting and headed by our Maadu organizer, Kalpessbhai. Guess what had they been discussing !!! Plans for the movie “Sivaji” starring Rajni 😀 The meetup group had managed to find a star, or I don’t know if it was other way round. But the group had Rahul Barve, Well … a star ’cause he was into trekking, camping and adventures for the last 16yrs and was a pro. Another reason why he is a star, u’ll know soon. The group full of enthusiasts, who were kind of first-timers, hobbyists in this field of adventure. And they didn’t want just trekking, they wanted more… Waterfall Rappelling.

I don’t remember if there were any members apart from Rahul himself and Kalpesh who’d done rappelling before, but all were keen on “waterfall” rappelling. The plan that was cooking was to trek Rajmachi in the night to the Rajmachi village, stay there till the early morn, and then climb up and back down to the Kondana caves, where we’d have our rappelling session. And then head down to Kondivade village. Rahul was quick to warn/notify members about a night trek in rains and mud, a wet sleepless night and then a rappelling event. But the buzzing group couldn’t be tranquilized. They wanted it. So rendezvous at 7.30pm, Chandu Halwai, Dadar TT, 14th Jul 2007. The week between, Kalpesh had organized for a bus which would take us straight to Rajamachi trail, Lonavala and then move back towards the Kondivade village waiting for the tired सवारीs.

Travelling Directions

6.30 pm, 14th July 2007, I was waiting for Vj on the Dadar FOB. I was unsure how many of the enthusiasts were gonna finally make it. I was pleased to see atleast 1 member with Vj, his friend Keta, a bhai!!, a crazy character. She too was supposed to get some more friends, which had backed out at the last moment. I was hungry, We had “Mosambi” juice after which we headed to find Chandu halwai, Kalpesh had managed to find a shop which no one knew. He didn’t want Pritam hotel for some reason. We finally reached there, which was opposite to Metro, Regal shoe galleries. huh!!!

Kalpesh couldn’t u just say Metro/Regal shoe gal. !?”

Waiting over there was a group of around 9-10 guys, most of which I think met me @ the Cafe Sea Side meet. I recognized a few faces, one of which was Vikram who’d misidentified me as “Ruturaj, the RJ”. A casual hi-hello and I reminded him that I’m Ruturaj, but not a RJ 😀 Vj got a call from Kalpeshbhai, who said the there were about 25 people.. phew!!! quite a lot, I never expected this big team. Good!!!, could be fun. Now started the “stretching” time from the IST with people comin, calling, forgetting something… getting late.. It was close to 8.30 when we all were there, Sandipan another character with his wife, MallikaArjun and more… We moved towards the inside of the PArsi/Hindu coloney where the bus had been waiting, and finally we moved.

Inside, we started a introduction to start off a conversation. Soon, we were doing halla gulla over names, “MallikaArjun” to be precise.. People were so happy to know some Mallika was in, but had turned out to be a male, bonded with Arjun 🙂 this chap was from IIT, there was another one from IIT Kharagpur. An entrepreneur in Sachin, I guess I remember right, call center guys, a mid-aged guy in Real Estates, Venky from Construction Security (who I guess developed his interest in adventure by jumping off with a harness tied to a rope from top of buildings), people from IT, Jewelery manufacturing, it was quite a bit of फर्साण. It can’t be an Indian bus ride without an “Antakshari”, All started… Sandipan enjoying everything.. this is where our star man, pounded his every body muscle into the songs. This guy was amazing, he could start of from any point of any song and could continue till the end. Remembering every single stanza line in it. He just remembered. I was probably the opposite, I just forget every song. The ride was good, with Rahul rendering the Engineering parody of “आधा है चन्द्रमा, रात आधी” into

.5 है चन्द्रमा, रात .5, रेह न जाए तेरी मेरी बातें .5, मुलाकातें .5

We picked up some more participants, one of them Moiz, who was a globe trotter, Beijing, Ukrani, Dubai, Mumbai and so on. We picked up Rahul’s friends @ Nerul, one of them was a strong guy, Roy. Who never got into any conversation, and he never sat in the bus. Another was Zayeed, I guess I’m correct, who was called as भाईजान by his members, this guy, I was told, was the world’s youngest Bungee jumping instructor at the age of 18. There was one thing common in Rahul’s friends, either height or body physique, Rahul possessed both, Zayeed – height, Roy – exceptional physique, which was of great help to Vikram.

The bus was in the Lonavala Ghats, when it took off from the expressway section into the Lonavala exit, and then into a small lane which was only navigable for a single bus that too a small one. We moved ahead it was around 12.30-1, We kept moving on rocky road full with puddles, streams of water crossing the road. This is the route normally treaded on foot, but we were doing it in the bus, probably Rahul wanted to save the first-timer’s energy. I’m sure it was more of a Picnic to Rahul and his friends as it was for me and Vj. One point, we got down off the bus, people changing into their trekking boots, shorts, etc. Grabbing their torches, mounting head-lights, etc. Vj got into super shiny yellow pants. It was when I decided to remove my shoes and put on hawaii slippers. People were amazed to see me do that, but I knew what I was doing (probably the experienced guys knew as well).

As we moved into the darkness, with the pebbled road, full of red soil, I remembered my first encounter with Mahuli, where I and my friends were walking in complete darkness on a road which we were not quite sure of. The difference here was, Rahul and his exp. gang knew exactly where we all were heading. The road turned from bad to nasty. Full of sticky wet soil, people filling their shoes with soil, gravel and adding weight to their soft/foamed shoes by plodding through water. This was where I was lucky or intelligent 🙂 with my slippers. Only problem I faced was when we had to move on muck and wet soil, it was when the slippers stuck in them and my foot came off from it. Later I kept taking the slippers off when we had to cross a muddy patch, at times we had to plod through knee deep mud, but it was fun, I don’t know how many enjoyed that spoiling their Nikes and Adidases 🙂 I did !

Almost 2 hours of battle with mud, water and dirt, we finally reached the Rajmachi village where all I could see was 3-4 big huts, and some poles for electricity. Rahul knocked one of the hut’s door. An old man came out and Rahul had a word with him, and declared that we’d wait here in the hut till the morning before we left after a hot tea and “poha”. Somebody spotted a tap, and everybody rushed to get their feet clean and many to discover their shoes had left the tired souls in a miserable position. Almost half an hour of cleaning.. and finally everybody got in the hut, only to find a damp floor waiting … 🙁 For me even that was good enough, I didn’t even expect that 🙂 We somehow managed to cramp ourselves into that room in our wet clothes and put our seats to rest. Guys got their snacks out of their bags, Chips, waffers, ruffles, bananas, pears, apples, you name it. There was a lively debate of what pigment is Apple’s skin made of, Beta Carotene, which not many were able to pronounce correctly, “Beta cartamine”, “Beta Cart” and so on… Every group needs a “bakra” to chew on the time, and it was Venky, the Constructional Safety Engineer. Everybody was @ him. Jokes, Practical pranks, etc. We had some snaps over there, MallikaArjun was in a sleepy mood, he laid back and kept sliding into a 180 degree position, with his hard rock blaring earphones. He kept humming in a strange fashion, to which everybody just stared at him till he realized that something was wrong. Finally around 3-3.30 everybody started slipping into their bedsheets that they had managed to get. I too laid back, Rahul went outside asking everybody to be up by 4.30.

The ground was damp, well rather wet, so were my clothes, but I didn’t have any option but to sleep, and I tried, Vj too tried sleeping. He was next to me, It was around 4.00 when Vj got up, it had become quite cold and he got out a bedsheet or a towel on him. He was shivering and at times even I was. 4.30 – 5, when Rahul came in towering over us asking to wake up, I never got sound sleep and got up promptly, Rahul asked where is Kalpesh, only to find him curling in a corner. Slowly and steadily people woke up, the old man got a chai for everybody, I sipped one and then another. Soon he got steaming “poha”, which everybody liked, and then another tea. After all that food and drink, a very cold, inviting rainy weather outside, there was only one thing left, yes…. aah … never felt so wonderful before. I somehow always like it in the open, and its an icing on the cake when u’re surrounded by greenery. Soon we were ready to leave, Kalpesh settled the sums with the guy, Rahul asked him to get भाकरी, मिर्ची ठेचा by around 1.30 @ kondana caves. Close to 6 and we were moving, I was back in my hawaais.

In few minutes, we halted, where Rahul advised everybody to be careful during the slippery descent. I was asked to stay at the back, with Roy the strong man and his other colleagues accompanying him. Roy was carrying a big backpack, which I thought was around half of my weight, he later told that it was around 30-35 kgs. It was not very comfortable in the slippers but it was not that bad either as I had expected, I’m sure another trek and I’d be skillful enough to do any trek in hawaais, There were 2 guys ahead of me, who were having trouble getting down in their broken footwear. Along came beautiful scenic spots of the Karjat valley, where all halted to capture the moments. All the way I kept admiring Roy’s skill in getting down so smoothly and quickly with that big, heavy rock on his back.

Soon, there was a right turn which took us through the steps to a scenery which resembled “Jurassic Park” scene of the helicopter descending along the waterfalls, I could see a leaves, trees covering a tall waterfall, I could hear the noise of the water thrashing the rocks, behind the waterfall there was brown/yellow coloration, a little aperture adjustment and I could see that it was the cave behind the waterfalls !!!! marvellous and it was this that we were gonna rappel ? Great !!

A wash in the great waterfall was inevitable, some preferred to stay out of it, but most didn’t. How can one stay away from such a lovely nature’s call ha haa !! More snaps, and we saw Rahul and his friends at the top of the waterfall, the waterfall was around 80-90 feet high. They were indicating us something, it took a little while before we could understand that he was asking us to come up and start with our final objective, Rappelling !!!

At the top, it was beautiful. To our right we could see the valley ahead, with the trains crossing the ghats, while on my left I could see the Rahul’s friends tying ropes, harnesses, buckles etc. Rahul gave us some advise on how rappel and asked 4-5 members to follow to the final point, the mouth of the waterfall. Then started a long wait till we finally saw Venky get attached to the harness and the other ropes, We could see from the distance, that Rahul was advising a lot to him, he was the first one to go down, and all were anxious, some of the members behind me were talking about goosebumps, I was too interested to see Venky rappel than to be checking each other’s goosebumps.

The arrangement was such that there were 2 guys at the top who helped to release the rope, Rope that was released by the rappelling candidate helped him to go down, but if that feeding was fast and out of control, then it could be problematic, so the guy at very edge controlled the feed of the rope. While the other one checked other stuff. I”m sure Rahul could add more of the technical details to this !

Venky was at the very edge of the waterfall, with his back facing the cliff, slowly and steadily he backed till the edge, when the guys started to release him, and he started tilting backwards, and he slowly moved down… where he lost his footing and slipped !! and he hung lose, the guys managed to advise him how to stick the legs back into the wall and continue his descent. He managed to do that, after a 8-9 feet of descent, the cliff bent inwards and thus a lose overhang. After which he just let go the rope in a controlled fashion to get down at the base. Mallikaarjun’s was the same, the initial portion was slippery where he slipped and gained control back again. Every single descent was taking around 1/2 hr, and there were around 25 of us. It was taking long, soon Venky came back again and was with us, Vj and he laid back trying to have a nap, but the nature had something different in store, everytime they tried to sleep, it became very sunny and the heat sored… and within few minutes it turned shady and it rained hard. It was wonderful, but I found it irritating trying to keep my S3IS away from the forces of nature.

Close to 1.30-2 the last group including me and Vijay went to the final mouth of the fall. It was here where we witnessed Roy’s amazing strength. Vikram was ready to descend, and he too slipped at the very position, but this time there was something more to the chaos, somehow.. Roy was shouting/advising more than he was doin to others… Jalal another member of the of the professionals said that Vikram’s rope had intertwined resulting in a lock, which didn’t allow Vikram to release his rope and go down or allow Roy and others to simply pull him up. It was a database deadlock, thankfully there was no “kill” to resolve this issue, but it was pure muscle, Roy tied another rope his harness and went further ahead at the cliff, where he lead his hand to Vikram and tried pulling him. Vikram was about 6′ and I guess more than 90kgs. We all could see that Roy was finding it extremely difficult to pull him up. But strong as bull, he managed to pull him up and all 6-8 of us cheered and clapped. I saw both Roy and Vikram were tired.. Roy almost bending, I’m sure the extra rope must have churned his intestines. Vikram came to us and said… that he was too tired to go down again… phew!!!

Soon the rope was reset and all were going down smoothly, finally it was my turn. Rahul had advised not to look down when at the edge, but I was not going to miss that .. hahaa.. Manoj I guess checked the harness and tied all the ropes and buckles and advised me to stand in a specific position, with my legs in a “V” shape and the back facing the cliff. Roy saw me and said “U’re the guy with the slippers naa ?”, “Ya”. I was ready. I backed a little and saw the cliff with water flowing through my shoes and straight down on the rocks below. I felt like I was standing on the wall of my friend’s terrace and he was pouring a bucket of water at my legs. !!! Only difference being, the pour was continuous. Slowly and steadily I backed feeding the rope, but I could see Roy shouting at me not to feed the rope too much. At the cliff, I saw nothing but water falling down and it indeed was slippery, I was unsure where to put my feet, Roy advised me to place my left foot in a rock cut, I put it but I bent my knees to which he shouted again asking me not to bend my knees too much. Later he asked me to put my right foot below, and yet maintaining the “V” position of my legs, I put the right foot and again bent my knees, which put more pressure on the toes making me slip, Roy held back the feeding rope, and asked me to put the feet back again in the, I followed his instructions and I was firm making an angle of around 45 deg. with the wall. Now he was shouting to let go the rope and tilt more towards the backside, I did, but as best as a first-timer could do.. I also started descending, to which Roy held back my ropes advising me the right way of descending, he asked me to look straight up in the sky, and close my eyes if the water troubled a lot. I bent back more, and then started feeding the rope, and putting my feet down the wall one at a time, trying to remember not to bend my knees. I’m not quite sure how successful I was at that, but I guess I was satisfactorily good at it. A few seconds more I was at edge where the wall bent inwards, thus putting me in a completely hanging position, this was easy now, I started feeding the rope, and the my descent was faster as I knew that Roy above knew that I’d crossed the final part and was just feeding over the overhang. Below I could see Rahul holding the rope, and adjusting it so that I can land in a right area. And soon I was touching my shoes on the rock below, I could see Rahul smiling at me, I don’t know if that was for my stupid descent or the nostalgia of the first rappel that he’d experienced.

How was it ?

Fundoooo !!!!! yeah !!!!

Soon the rest followed, and I had the wonderful भाकरी and मिर्ची ठेचा. Another shower and we were waiting for Roy and the other guy to come down so that we could go back. The return from the falls was a short one, it took around 20 mins before we reached Kondivde village, where we saw a restaurant like structure. We went into it placing orders for chai, pohe, upma, etc. A quick change finally into dry clothes since the last night was wonderful as well. The bus was waiting outside on the outskirts of the village somewhere, Kalpesh and Rahul got into the tuk-tuk and got back the bus to the restaurant.

The ride back to home was a smooth one where most of us were dozing off. Rahul and Vj were still discussing plans for future treks. Rahul and his friends got off at Chembur while most of us at Sion from where we got into ricks back to our homes, tired, excited and finally dry !

Travelling Directions

  • Get to Karjat by train
  • Hire a tuk-tuk to Kondivde village

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